ST. PAUL, Minn. — Corey Crawford could throw his body in front of a bullet, and somebody would question his glove hand.
That’s how it is for the guy, who might be the best most-abused goalie in the NHL. There is no Most Valuable Abused Goalie Award, but maybe there should be. Throughout his career, Crawford has had to fight off pucks from opponents and silly criticism from Blackhawks fans.
I bring this up for what feels like the 100th time because Crawford was spectacular in the Hawks’ 2-1 overtime victory Tuesday in Game 6 against the Minnesota Wild.
Patrick Kane scored the game-winner to earn the Hawks a return trip to the Western Conference finals because that’s what Kane does. But Crawford was so good — and has been so good the last two seasons — that another defense is in order. By all rights, he shouldn’t need any defense at all. His 2013 Stanley Cup ring would seem to be a filibuster.
Tuesday works pretty well, too. Crawford stopped shot after shot and second chance after second chance. He denied the Wild’s Justin Fontaine twice late in a wild second period with reactions that can’t be taught. It’s one thing to see the puck; it’s another to have the quickness and limberness to stop it. Crawford had all of that.
He was under intense pressure all game and stood tall throughout, except when he was sprawled on the ice making saves, which was often.
‘‘I think, on the road, this is probably one of my better games in the playoffs so far,’’ he said. ‘‘This team seems to enjoy that position where we have a chance to eliminate and move on to the next series. We get excited about that.’’
The Hawks are on their way to the conference finals against the Anaheim Ducks or Los Angeles Kings because of Crawford. He was great in a huge game, stopping 34 of 35 shots.
He was great. That doesn’t get said enough. Too often, his skills are the debate of the day and shouldn’t be. People are too busy waiting for him to fail. Why? Sometimes I think it has to do with his earnest, thoughtful interview answers. You apparently don’t want the fate of your team resting on a cerebral head.
Well, tell Fontaine that. He had an earlier breakaway that Crawford also stopped.
‘‘I’ve run out of words to describe how good he’s been,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘He knows and we know that if we want to win a tough game like this on the road to close out the series against a team like Minnesota, we need him to take over the game.’’
Crawford and Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov stopped breakaways in a matter of seconds in the second period, Bryzgalov on Patrick Sharp and Crawford on Fontaine. It was good stuff for hockey fans.
The Hawks led 1-0 after one period, thanks to an unassisted goal by Kris Versteeg goal and . . . actually, I’m not sure how the Hawks led after one period. The Wild dominated the puck and had several prime scoring opportunities. There was one stretch in which the Hawks couldn’t get the puck out of their zone and the Wild missed chance after chance. The only thing between the Hawks and a 3-1 deficit was Crawford.
But he can do only so much, and if the Hawks were going to continue to play with fire, they were going to burned. Sure enough, it happened early in the second, when Erik Haula took a pass from Matt Cooke off the boards and scored on a breakaway. Tie game. The Twitterverse predictably lit up with Crawford abuse.
‘‘You’ve got to give Crawford a lot of credit,’’ Kane said. ‘‘I’m sure he wasn’t too happy with the way we were playing in front of him.’’
Give the Wild credit. I was slow to do that during the series. They played the Hawks’ up-tempo game Tuesday and stayed with them. Unfortunately for them, they ran into Crawford.
Throughout the game, Wild fans derisively chanted, ‘‘Craw-ford, Craw-ford.’’ They didn’t know they were giving him extra motivation.
‘‘I could hear it,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s fun. It’s a fun part of hockey, trying to get in my head. I’ve heard it before. Probably won’t be the last time, either. I enjoyed it.’’
The third period and overtime went like the other two periods had gone, with Crawford overcoming intense pressure from the Wild.
Anybody want to give him some credit yet?